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SCSU notebook: Kyler Kupka expected to miss several series after stomach pain far more serious

Senior wing will likely be out several weeks as he recovers. Fourth-ranked St. Cloud State plays high-scoring WMU this weekend

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St. Cloud State forward Kyler Kupka (10) takes the puck past Western Michigan defenseman Michael Joyaux (3) toward the goal during the third period Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Kyler Kupka thought he had a stomach ache. He ended up having an appendectomy.

Kupka, a senior wing from Camrose, Alberta, missed last weekend's series at Denver and will be out again this weekend when the St. Cloud State men's hockey team plays against Western Michigan. The fourth-ranked Huskies and 17th-ranked Broncos play an NCHC series at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday (both on FOX 9+) at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

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Kyler Kupka
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

"Emergency appendectomy — it almost burst," St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson said of Kupka. "He thought he just had a stomach ache, but it got worse.

"They rushed him into the hospital to have surgery to take his appendix out."

It is a tough blow for the Huskies and Kupka, who was off to the best start of his college career. Kupka had eight points in SCSU's first eight games, which included two game-winning goals, playing on a line with center Grant Cruikshank and wing Micah Miller.

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Kyler Kupka has seen his role increase each season with the Huskies. With the departure of many offensive-minded players from last season, he is looking to step into playing a larger role in the scoring this season.

"He was playing great and was having the best start to his career here," Larson said. "He worked really hard in the summer. It's disappointing for him and for our team.

"But, he's going to be a huge shot in the arm when we get him back."

Kupka had been seeing time on both the penalty kill and the power play this season. In the series against Denver, he was replaced in the lineup by senior Aidan Spellacy.

Last season, Kupka had a career-bests in goals (5), assists (13), points (18) and plus/minus (plus-12) in 37 games. To put this season's start in perspective, Kupka had two assists in his first eight games last season.

Overcoming deficits, adversity in series against Denver

Yes, if you look at last weekend's series against Denver, note that the Pioneers picked up four out of six possible points against the visiting Huskies.

But Larson was pleased with some intangibles that showed in his team.

On Friday, the Huskies trailed 2-1 and 3-2 against Denver, but got an extra attacker goal to tie the game with 1:17 left in regulation to send the game into overtime. Then SCSU made a coach's challenge on a hit by Carter Mazur on Chase Brand that the Huskies thought would put them on the power play for overtime.

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Before overtime started, however, the Huskies lost that challenge and had to kill a minor penalty for losing the challenge. SCSU killed the penalty and ended up getting a game-winning goal from Veeti Miettinen with 1:38 left in overtime to snap an eight-game losing streak at Magness Arena.

"A huge emotional swing that night where I'm drawing up our 4-on-3 power play for the overtime and then, we were shocked to find out the call didn't go our way," Larson said. Associate head coach Dave Shyiak "had about 10 seconds to draw up the 4-on-3 penalty kill."

In the second game, the Huskies trailed 2-0 just 2:37 into the first period. Larson took his time out after the second goal and SCSU was able to cut the deficit to 2-1 going into the third period. The Huskies gave up a power-play goal at 2:43 of the third period to go down 3-1, but Grant Cruikshank scored a power-play goal at 10:50 to cut the deficit to 3-2.

The Huskies pulled goalie Dominic Basse for an extra attacker, but were not able to get the equalizer this time.

"This team had a tough three minutes against Denver, but this team shows some backbone and shows character," Larson said. "They never give up.

"On the other hand, I was disappointed we didn't come out with more killer instinct to start the game Saturday night. That's a lesson that we have to learn that if you get an opportunity like that, you have to be ready and play your best from the drop of the puck because the teams in this league — they're hard to come back from early deficits."

To get back to his character point, let's use last season's trip to Denver as an example. In the first game of that series, the Huskies jumped out to a 3-0 lead ... and then got outscored 10-2 the rest of the way on their way to getting swept at Magness.

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Broncos are third in the nation in scoring

Like St. Cloud State, Western Michigan went into the season with a lot of question marks because of a lot of new faces on the roster. There are eight freshmen and six transfers on the roster and gone are All-American defenseman Ronnie Attard (Philadelphia Flyers), forward Ethan Frank led the nation in goals (26, AHL's Hershey Bears) and Brandon Bussi (AHL's Providence Bruins) played goal in 37 games last season.

Broncos won 26 games, advanced to their first NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game and first NCAA regional championship game under Pat Ferschweiler in 2021-22. To get close to that season, WMU will have to do it with a number of new players in key roles.

But WMU is third in the nation in goals-per-game (4.4), seventh in faceoff win percentage (54.7), sixth in shots on goal (34.8 per game) and 10th on the power play (27.5%) after picking up a sweep last weekend at Miami.

"It's like they reloaded and they're playing to their same identity," Larson said of the Broncos, who were 26-12-1 last season. "They work extremely hard. They're fast, transition from defense to offense as quickly as anyone and, if you turn pucks over against them, they're going to make you pay. I've been really impressed watching them on film."

Ryan McAllister, a freshman from London, Ontario, leads the nation in assists (14) and is second in points (19). Senior Jason Polin is tied for second in the nation in goals (9), junior defenseman Zak Galambos has 10 points and four power-play goals and junior Cameron Rowe is 6-4 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .900 save percentage to lead the Broncos.

Polin is the first NCHC player to have hat tricks in back-to-back games. McAllister has been named NCHC Rookie of the Week each of the last two weeks.

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com
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